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One thing we at the Handel Group have frequently found in our work with senior leaders is how difficult it is for them to ask for help, especially among their co-workers, whether subordinates or superiors. When faced with something they don't know how to do or handle, or something they need in order to do their job, it is as if someone told them never to ask for help. When we ask them why they aren't asking for help, they tell us things like, "I should be able to figure it out myself." "I am senior and therefore shouldn't have this problem." "They will think less of me." "I will appear weak." "I should know the answer to this." "I don't want to appear vulnerable."
For some reason, most people, even—perhaps especially—successful ones, think that asking for help is taboo. Now chances are, you've helped a lot of people, so you might think this isn't true. But before you dismiss this idea, think about what you do when you need help, not when someone asks you for it.
Do you try to figure out the answer yourself, even when it's clear that's not possible? Do you hide—not tell anyone you're wrestling with something? (This is a popular one.) Do you just hope it goes away? Stop and think about what conversations you are avoiding having, or even ones you wish you could have but know you never will. Are you telling yourself that you're weak, or ignorant, or not worthy of your position?
One of the most valuable services we provide as coaches is getting people to speak up. It always comes out being an extremely positive thing, and the energy that was being wasted wondering and struggling is not wasted anymore. There is nothing more distracting or potentially upsetting than an undelivered communication. On the contrary, once you have asked for help or asked the questions you need answers to, a great feeling of freedom comes over you.
So if you are reading this and have identified that you are not speaking up about something you need help with, let me give you some free coaching: Ask for help. Talk to the person you should be talking to. All your internal reasons for not talking are, more likely than not, wrong.
You will be a better leader for it and will show those under you that it's O.K. to ask for help. Communicate with your people that you want them to speak up and that you will do the same. It seems so obvious, I know. But it usually doesn't happen without a push in the right direction.
A former client who was a top executive at a major corporation had resigned to pursue her other business dream. She was telling me a story about having breakfast with a CEO who adored her work. I asked her if she spoke to him about helping with her dream, and she said: "No way … I would never do that … that would be rude … what would he think?"
I told her he would probably be honored to help, as most people would be, or at the very least have some great ideas or connections. You just have to ask. In this case she didn't, and we don't know what would have happened, but that's the point; you don't know. My client agreed that she was just being a chicken and, of course, should have said something.
Here's some advice so you don't end up kicking yourself over wasted time or a wasted opportunity:
1. First, stop talking to yourself and decide that you are going to talk to someone else.
2. Decide who that will be. A friend, colleague, acquaintance.
3. Craft the conversation. Write down not only what you are going to ask them for, but how you hope they will respond.
4. Make a promise to schedule a meeting and promise you will ask them for help. And give yourself consequence if you don't. Remember, it has to be something that will really annoy you.
5. Tell someone of the promise in No. 4—someone who will hold you to account for having the meeting and asking for help.